DON’T BE DECEIVED
v16: We are going through the book of James and in chapter 1 the major theme is trials and how we as Christians should move through them. James, the brother of Jesus is writing these brand-new Christians and helping them get their bearings on how to follow Christ. These young believers were going through the trials that life can bring and it wasn’t easy. In fact, the trials were shaking their very faith in God and who they believed Him to be. So he wrote, “Do not be deceived.”
Trials have that affect on us. Trials can be incredibly disorienting so much so that we can be deceived by what is real and what is true and be led off down paths away from God. I bought a 3500 lumens flashlight the other week. That thing was so bright. I was a bit concerned I’d start flagging down planes. I was up around 5 in the morning and took a walk outside when it was still dark. I turned the corner on the cornfield and about 100 yards away was a doe and two fawns. I’ve never done this but I shined my light on them and kept walking towards them. They didn’t move or get spooked. I got within 50 yards and they were still there. Then I started walking really quiet and the light still held them. 40 yards, 30 yards, 20 yards, 15 yards. At about 15 yards I stopped and stamped the ground and they bolted out of there. I now understand why “spotlights” are against the law when it comes to hunting. The deer has no clue that they are in danger. They think everything is fine and they are safe. In reality they are dangerously deceived and they can’t see or know that how close to death they really are. In the daylight they would be gone long before 100 yards if they saw me. Trials have a similar effect. They can seemingly impair our ability to know what is really going on. You’re deceived.
v17: Reading through verses 17 and 18 is a bit confusing. It’s all insider words and phrases and slang. It’s like someone from another culture trying to understand “Passing the Buck” or “Coach Potato” or “Bought the Farm” or “Shoot the Breeze” or “Plead the 5th” or “Ride Shotgun”. Before we try to understand the message God is giving us we need to to tackle the different slang. I have to give credit to the commentaries by Douglas Moo, Kent Hughes, David Nystrom, and Peter Davids. This sermon is the accumulation of their insights into this passage.
Father of Lights: So let’s start with the Father of Lights? It’s a reference to the origin of the universe – the stars, suns, moons, and everything else up there that gets lit up. Scripture over and over teaches that God is the one who spoke this universe into being. This world says, “No it’s a big bang. Students, you guys hear this at school all the time. The theory of evolution. That somehow there was an explosion and goo or dirt given enough time becomes you or becomes me. Seriously. That’s the essence of evolution. Dirt given enough time – add some water or oxygen – can become a humming bird, a piece of broccoli, or even become us. Never mind the fact that it violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics that says everything if left to itself will move towards entropy – breakdown, disorder. This 2nd Law is empirically verifiable. So how in the world is there order created in a system ruled by entropy? There has to be a big banger; an “Uncaused Causer”. James says God, the Father of Lights, is that being.
And not just the Father of lights of the material universe but His essential moral nature is also light and moral goodness. When we see light – the sun, the moon and stars and night – we’re seeing the Father of Light as in goodness – no evil in him.
No Variation/Shadow due to change: James goes on to speak of God’s unchanging nature by expanding on this theme of lights. The sun is always changing position. The moon is always changing positions and size. The sun waxes and wanes. It’s a statement about relativism. There are some things that never change. This guitar has an “A” string. This “A” was “A” 5,000 years ago. It was “A” when Jesus was alive. It was “A” when Bach was alive. It was “A” when Hendrix played it. It’s “A” today. That is good news. Do you realize how good that news it? The 2nd law of Thermodynamics is good news. It was true today as it was when this world was created. It applies to the moral law of God. Evil is evil today just as it was back at the beginning of the world. Creation and all in it points to this unchanging Father of Lights. The only Being out there that everything else bumps up against. There is no change in Him. There is shadows in Him because light emanates from Him. He is the fixed point!
V18a: Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth: What’s interesting is that James returns to this idea of birth that he mentioned in verses 13-15. Remember how he introduced how the parent has a pregnancy of temptation that gives birth to a child called sin. That child named “sin” then gives birth to a grandchild called “death”. James introduces another birth process and family but in this one the parent is God himself. James wrote “God brought us forth by the word of truth.” What in the world does that mean?
Creation of Humanity: When we read in Genesis and the creation account as God spoke the “word” He created. He spoke the word and there was light, the heavens, land, sea. God spoke the word and He created us. He brought us forth by his word. The birth of humanity.
Creation of Israel: Another option could be the creation of Israel. Deuteronomy 32 says to the entire nation, “you were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” (Deuteronomy 32:18 ESV). The birth or brought us forth here is metaphorical and refers to how God himself created or spoke into existence the nation of Israel.
Redemption: The final option is a reference to that point when someone has faith in Christ. Jesus once explained it as being “born again.” He said we must have a spiritual birth. God being the one who is the parent bringing forth a child. Bible scholars call it a “new birth” teaching. The Bible is filled with it. “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12–13 ESV)
Word of truth: Let’s go one step further though and try to understand the word of truth: 1. God’s word could again be His word spoken at creation. God’s word as in the Bible is often referred to as the “word of truth.” “And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules” (Psalms 119:43 ESV). I think we can all understand that and I think it can include this. But it can also include the idea of redemption that would compliment the spiritual birth just referenced. The Word of truth phrase is frequently used in reference to Jesus and his life and death and resurrection. “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you…” (Col. 1:3–6 ESV). To say it, “God the Father led us to be born again by the truth of the gospel.”
V18b: That we should be a kind of first fruits: The last phrase we need to tackle is this “first fruits” phrase. It’s a harvest word. The very first grain, fruit, vegetables, or animals when you harvest or butcher. God called Israel to give their “first fruits” to him as an offering. Meaning don’t wait until the very end of the harvest to think of God and give Him what is left over. Give Him the first and the best. It was used traditionally for offerings and tithes.
But in the early church this idea of first-fruits was also creatively applied to Christians. “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV). So what does this mean? Good question. Let’s read a couple more verses that I think will give this context. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:19–23 ESV)
What Paul was writing here and I believe what James was writing as well is that this good gift of redemption is a promise that God made to all humanity and to this world. He was going to redeem it all. We have this redemption first and the Holy Spirit in us confirms it but God isn’t done yet. He has still to finish His redeeming work in humanity and then in this world to set it free from the curse from our sin.
CONCLUSION: (straight thinking in trials)
So now let’s go back and put this all together. In the middle of our trials, often what we run low on is perspective and truth. We get spotlighted, with trials deceiving us about reality and truth. If we live long enough we are going to experience this and see this happen to others. I’ve had people in my life tell me I’m not thinking straight. That I’m off base. I’ve had conversations with people telling them the same thing. You’re not thinking straight. It’s slang for deceived. You’re way off-base. Trials can do this to us. Do not be deceived! When we are facing temptation that trials can bring it’s so hard not to be deceived. And what is front of us in trials lies and tells us this will never end, that we cannot go on, that it’s all God’s fault, that this pain and this loss and this suffering is too much for even God. Bail on God and righteousness. Do whatever you have to do to feel better.
And into our trials James comes roaring in with declarations at the beginning, “God will give you the wisdom you need to know the next step. He won’t give you the whole plan but He’ll give you what you need for today. He is working in you. He is perfecting you. Refining you. Don’t for minute think He’s not working.” Later he pleads, “Stay with God because there is a life beyond this one that is more real and full of perfection and perfect peace. In that life there is a crown awaiting everyone who endures and perseveres. There is a reward from God awaiting us. The favor and pleasure of God poured out on us without reservation.”
And in the final verses 16-18 James wrote the final conclusion, the culmination of the previous verses. Do NOT BE DECEIVED – keep your thinking straight. Don’t lose sight of the truth. Every good and perfect gift comes from God. God doesn’t send evil and temptation our way. He sends us good things. Perfect things. When we’re in trials, we’re looking for good things. Perfect things. In trials it’s about all we can say, “Give me something good, Jesus. Something perfect. I need something good today.” There are seasons of trials in our lives where I can barely go forward. All I do is go back to the scriptures I know. Promises. God give me something good. I don’t have the energy or the passion to intercede. In trials, everything gets so foggy and it’s about all we can do is just hold on to God.
And James says, “Hold on to this God. He’s bigger than your trials. He’s bigger than your temptations. He’s bigger than your confusion. He made this world! He doesn’t change. He’s not going anywhere. He’s good and in Him is light. Ask this Father of Lights to shine His light. “Jesus, just shed some light in the darkness.” If you’ve ever been in trial or given into temptation and the sin and death that comes you know what it’s like to see His light again. Jesus shine your light! And not only that, bring that word of truth – redemption, forgiveness, grace, mercy. You put that truth in me. Bring it Jesus. And make me one of those people who You show off to this world of a future redemption and restoration. It’s in trials that people around us begin to see His truth and the reality of Heaven. Hold on to God Him.